Volunteering or working for The Winnipeg Foundation is a very inspiring experience. Because of the incredible generosity of our donors combined with the tireless commitment and passion of the charitable agencies our grants support, The Foundation is delivering ever increasing impact for the betterment of our community. Just being part of this philanthropic process brings immense satisfaction to everyone who is motivated by community service.
Community foundations everywhere are taking a hard and critical look at how and why they were created and whether their current operations reflect today’s mores and attitudes. Our centennial year presents an opportunity to reflect on the past and to make plans for the future.
The story of our beginning has been told many times. In 1921, just following World War One, the influenza pandemic and the General Strike of 1919, a prominent banker named William Forbes Alloway donated $100,000 on condition that only the annual investment income it generated could be used for public benefit. As a result, in 1922 The Foundation made its first $6,000 in grants using the interest it earned from Alloway’s founding gift. It was not until 1924 that a second gift was received. Three gold coins worth $15 came in a plain white envelope simply marked “The Widow’s Mite.” These two gifts established the value base of Canada’s first community foundation – it’s not the size of the gift but the giving that matters. By working together and pooling resources, it would ultimately be possible to profoundly impact the quality of life in Winnipeg for generations to come.
Elizabeth Alloway was a woman of courage and conviction. She was a founding member of the Victorian Order of Nurses and played an active philanthropic role in our community at a time when women did not have the vote. She made the first bequest to the new Winnipeg Foundation – an incredible gift of $800,000 in 1926 – the largest bequest at the time in western Canadian history.
Together, William and Elizabeth Alloway were the architects of the Canadian community foundation movement. They were civic optimists and community builders of the first order, who found a way to provide sustained financial support for the social challenges facing Winnipeg in their day.
As with those first six grants of $1,000 each approved by The Winnipeg Foundation in 1922 which addressed public health, inequity and support for vulnerable people, our activity and mandate remains firmly focused on social justice and community vitality. This past fiscal year, The Winnipeg Foundation supported approximately 1,000 organizations with distributions of $73 million. The capacity of The Foundation was particularly noticeable during the early weeks of COVID-19 when millions of dollars in immediate response and stabilization grants were provided to hundreds of local charities. Again, we acknowledge that The Foundation’s community support is only possible because of the generosity of donors who have built our endowments during the past 100 years.
We naturally want to celebrate the life and times of those who have created this remarkable legacy for our community. We also must acknowledge the more troubling aspects of the society in which The Foundation was created and nurtured. We can’t ignore or gloss over the past; failing to recognize who had power, influence and means. For many decades, the history of our province has included racist attitudes against Métis and Indigenous peoples.
As a banker, Alloway was a specialist in trading Métis scrip and his business supported new immigrants in the settlement of the West. More recent interpretations of Canadian history argue that the relative economic prosperity of the new settler society came at the expense of those who were disadvantaged.
In recent years, The Foundation has placed particular emphasis on supporting the Calls for Action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015. We know that the society in which The Winnipeg Foundation has grown and prospered during the past 100 years is the same society that failed to uphold its treaty obligations and does not yet treat all people equitably. During the past year, with the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Winnipeg has also seen other examples of institutional racism and bias against diversity in our community.
We acknowledge the harms and mistakes of the past and we are committed to creating a more equitable society in the future. To quote the Philanthropic Community’s Declaration of Action signed by The Foundation in 2015, “It falls on all people living in Canada to continue the hard work of healing and reconciliation…”
The Winnipeg Foundation has a proud history of supporting countless community projects during the past 100 years. With our growth as a community “trust,” we face increasing expectations to balance competing opportunities. At this centennial milestone, it is particularly important for our Board and staff to re-confirm our vision: “A Winnipeg where community life flourishes for all.” This is the journey we are on and the goal we will continue to pursue.